Mindanao Peace Games: Kalaro. Kaibigan. Kasama.
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a group of young women basketballers celebrate with their coach
A women’s only games, started in 2014, supports young women athletes to promote peace, understanding and leadership in the conflicted region of Mindanao in the Philippines.

Mindanao Peace Games: A brief history

Kalaro. Kaibigan. Kasama. Adversary. Competitor. Kindred.

The Mindanao Peace Games (MPG) was founded in 2014 by a small group of Mindanao school leaders, all intent on identifying ways to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the eradication of extreme poverty and promotion of socio-economic growth) within their local Mindanao school communities. It was at this meeting that the MPG was born.

Home to 24 million people, the populous Mindanao Island group of the Philippines has endured a long period of conflict, most recently in the form of the Moro conflict that began in 1968. Armed conflict and violence across the poorest provinces of Mindanao (Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, and Sulu) continue to persist, mostly between military and armed groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Islamic State-funded Abu Sayyaf Group.

Women remain the most frequently marginalized and oppressed demographic in conflict scenarios such as these. It is for this reason that MPG was created – as a purely female sports event – to empower, serve, and give a voice to this most marginalized and underrepresented of communities. As a result, MPG is a movement that centers as powerfully on leadership as it does on sport. Alongside our annual MPG games, we host yearly leadership and coaches’ forums for young Christian and Muslim athletes and peacemakers across Mindanao, engaging a wider network of educational institutions with every passing year.

We specifically focus on:

  • Addressing existing gender-based sport inequalities in sport in Mindanao, for coaches and athletes
  • Enabling groups marginalized by conflict to have a greater and more empowered voice
  • Using sport as a vehicle for peace and for ethical leadership development

There is still work to do

While we have achieved some success, there is still work to do. Alongside our own need for investment and the ongoing development of a strategy that guarantees our long-term sustainability, we recognize a fundamental need for a shift in the sport-for-development sector. We hope for, and would specifically welcome:

  1. An increase in female coaches and sports administrators, with sports leaders across the board in Mindanao. Specifically, we hope for expanded opportunities for women and girls to pursue higher education across the fields of coaching and sports management.
  2. Establishments of links (including exchange programs) with national and international organizations that could further the development of sport-for-development opportunities in the Philippines, and specifically Mindanao. There is much to be gained from visiting, and learning from, other cultures.
  3. Funding for key programs that specifically benefit women and girls in sport, including coach development programs.
  4. Establishment of sports and development hubs or offices in schools across Mindanao that work directly with the MPG, to their benefit and ours.

We further believe that it remains essential that organizations such as ours continue to focus on providing women-only events in conflict zones, as this demographic remains consistently the most marginalized, according to recent research conducted by USAID. As a result, we strongly encourage a focus on female-only sports initiatives wherever they can be developed. 

Passing the torch of inspiration

Should this model be replicated in other regions of the Philippines, or, indeed, across the world? We believe so. For coaches or sports organizations hoping to emulate our approach we can offer the following advice:

  • There is value in finding the right people at the inception of your movement. People who can see the upside of what you propose, who acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead, but who also positively and proactively seek out and find the solutions you need to transition your movement or initiative from the dream to the reality stage.
  • Funding can and will be a challenge. It is subsequently best to nurture internal stakeholders who will invest their time, alongside other key resources, including creativity and wisdom, to develop the best possible event. In this sense, financial funding is not the only key resource that you will need to rely on. A great example for us has been establishment of ‘Popcorn & Movie Night’ – many of our participants had never been to a movie theater and it is a special bonding experience for us all.
  • Create linkages and network to fill the gaps in your organization, in terms of manpower, skills, human development and facilities. This might take the form of a volunteer grants coordinator or extremely well-connected executive board member. There is much that can be achieved when you have a strategy, passion, and a meaning behind what you seek to do.
  • Be ready to adapt. We had to do exactly that during the pandemic, and we also recognized the need to move to an 80% female/20% male event structure to advance the membership and reach of our movement. This allows us to safeguard its sustained existence.

The way forward

We have already successfully engaged hundreds of young athletes, coaches, policy makers and volunteers in a way that we believe is transferable across cultures and nations – but we hope to engage many more. And as the MPG movement continues to grow, we are now seeking to shape the next generation of policy makers and leaders – not only in Mindanao – but as far as we can reach.

One way that we seek to constructively achieve this is via the creation of MPG – The Book  which will be released in October 2022. MPG – The Book – was written as a pragmatic and inspiring instructive text for any sportsperson or sports organization hoping to establish their own peace and sport initiative. It will also enable us to raise much needed funds for the MPG, alongside widening our reach and network.

Finally, we genuinely value and welcome engagement with individual athletes, coaches, volunteers, governing bodies, and sports organizations. If you are interested in finding out more about what we do, you can watch our inspiring video here or reach out to our Convenor, Coach Noli Ayo directly: [email protected]


Dr. Elesa Zehndorfer is the Vice President of Writing and Curriculum Services at Adrenaline Solutions. She is a six-time published award-winning writer with a true passion for sport, exercise and fitness


Does not apply
Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender equality
Target Group
Girls and women

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